Death-doom is having a bit of a moment. Developed from the initial undercurrent of the works of Incantation, Asphyx, Decomposed, Katatonia, and diSEMBOWELMENT, the little subgenre that could has produced some of metal’s best and most consistent bands. Hooded Menace and Hamferð have already released two of 2018’s best records, Spectral Voice unleashed one of 2017’s most crushing and ethereal head-trips, and I’m still waiting for that Inverloch follow-up, dammit. On the whole, death-doom is one of the most exciting corners of the metal world at the moment. It’s also growing relatively crowded, with more bands every year trying their hand at the fast/slow/mercilessly heavy dynamic perfected by the legendary groups above. While this influx of new bands isn’t a bad thing, it most certainly increases the amount of garbage albums the subgenre will produce. Thankfully, Spanish death-doom newcomers Ataraxy don’t seem to belong in that growing pile of refuse. Their debut record Revelations of the Ethereal was about as good a debut as one could expect, producing an album incorporating death and doom elements in an organic and fluid way. The follow-up to that auspicious debut, Where All Hope Fades, is shockingly even better, building on the sound the band created with their debut and expanding their sonic palette in significant and powerful ways.
From the onset, it’s fairly clear that Ataraxy has a knack for melody. Where some bands in this subgenre find themselves bogged in the murk of the lowest and heaviest end of the sonic spectrum, Ataraxy approaches death-doom from a more melodic songwriting perspective, incorporating easily recognizable and potent melodies into their music. Album opener “As Uembras d’o Hibernio” makes this emphasis abundantly clear in its opening riff sequence, which gives of an oddly spaghetti western vibe. Coupled with synths and cymbal-heavy drumming, this opening offers a panoramic peak into the band’s songwriting aesthetic. Which, thankfully, is also impeccably produced. As the track evolves into a crushing doom-oriented riff fest, the clarity of the instruments does not diminish. The production work on Where All Hope Fades is exquisite, offering the listener a cleaner and clearer listening experience than one normally receives in a death-doom record, creating a consistently crisp and legible sonic landscape.
While the album begins on a decidedly doomier note, one aspect of this record that works extraordinarily well is its seamless jumping back-and-forth between death and doom sounds, which never feel out of place or forced. A sterling example of this is the absolutely perfect transition during the album’s second track “Matter Lost In Time”. The track spends the first nearly six-minutes of its ten-minute-plus run time wading through some epic doom, before slowly increasing the tempo of drummer Viejo’s double bass assault. Javi and Santi’s guitars also gradually begin to pick up their tempo in measured phases, only to explode simultaneously with the drums into an all-out death metal rampage. Ataraxy very clearly understands both sonically and emotionally what makes death and doom metal work, and combines them in a unique way to maximize the impact of each. Such carefully planned explosions pepper the album, with “The Blackness of Eternal Night” and finale “The Mourning Path” offering similar sonic delights.
While the songwriting on this record is superior to that of many of their peers, the performances present another facet of Ataraxy’s sound that makes them unique and successful in the subgenre. Guitarists Javi and Santi can play with the best of them, with “One Last Certainty” being perhaps the best example of their talent on the record. Blasting through death riffs like a freight train, the tandem could easily develop into one of the very best in death metal. Viejo’s drumming is equally commendable, though in many ways more restrained than the guitar work throughout the record. Viejo knows when to ratchet up the intensity, and keeps pace with the guitars without a shred of difficulty. But it’s when his drumming becomes more subdued and methodical that his precision really shines. One of the most important reasons that the juxtaposition of death and doom metal works so well on this record is his approach to the kit, creating epic amounts of space when needed, and offering ample audio suffocation at the drop of a hat. It’s a performance worthy of the excellent songwriting contained on this record. It would also be folly not to mention the bass work of Edu as well, which shines particularly brightly during “The Absurdity of a Whole Cosmos”.
It’s difficult to find fault with this record. Other than the typical complaints of the bass sometimes getting lost in the mix, this is a solid death-doom record through and through. With their excellent sophomore outing, Ataraxy distinguish themselves as excellent songwriters and capable musicians, infused with an uncanny ability to meld death and doom metal so seamlessly that it can be difficult to decipher where one aspect ends and the other begins. The hallmarks of a great death-doom band are all here, and as long as 2018 can produce work equal in talent and stature to what Ataraxy has created here, death-doom should have another banner year. A fantastic follow-up to an excellent debut.
Where All Hope Fades will be released in digital and physical formats through Dark Descent Records on February 16th, and is available for pre-order on the label’s Bandcamp page.